Anchored in TV History

Sunday, July 23, 2006

For a generation, he was television news, delivering word of John F. Kennedy's assassination, updates on the space race and the latest from the Vietnam War.

Walter Cronkite, who began his journalism career as a wire service reporter and was widely considered "the most trusted man in America" as anchor of the CBS Evening News for 19 years, is the focus of a new "American Masters" documentary.

The program, which explores Cronkite's life and career, includes vintage film footage from the earliest days of television news: a cramped newsroom, rapidly clattering typewriters, and a much younger Cronkite, stopwatch in hand, timing his copy as he read aloud to prepare to go on the air. Back then, he said, "when we signed off and knew we had pulled it together despite . . . all that could go wrong with television at that time, that was about the most fun moment every day."

Of the documentary, Cronkite said, "I'm highly honored, but also felt a little bit wary about what they'd find in my life to put on TV."

The program features commentary from longtime colleagues Don Hewitt, Andy Rooney and Mike Wallace, columnist Molly Ivins, former president Jimmy Carter and others. Narrated by Katie Couric, who takes over the CBS Evening News anchor chair in September, the film includes Cronkite's coverage of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969, an event he called "the greatest achievement of mankind in my lifetime."

A longtime space buff, Cronkite had immersed himself in material about the space program, but when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon, "I was actually speechless," he said.

"I sat there in the studio saying, 'Golly, wow, well, oh boy,' and it wasn't what you'd call a very well-organized broadcast. But I like to think it was genuine."

-- Kathy Blumenstock



9 p.m. on MPT; 10 p.m. on WETA ; check local PBS listings

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